What doesn’t explain US education outcomes

Really liked this post from Amanda Ripley summing up all the reasons that do not explain educational outcomes in the US relative to other nations:

2. Class Sizes

Around the world, class sizes are not predictive of education results. In the U.S., small class sizes seem to be better for very young students, but as usual, it depends on the teacher and the principal.

3. Time in School

Despite popular belief, most U.S. schools require at least as much instructional timeas schools in other countries. The quality of that time matters more than the quantity. I have seen a lot of time wasted in schools all over the world…. More time may be useful, particularly for kids from low-income families, but only if that time is used wisely (i.e. by giving teachers more time to watch strong teachers teach).

4. School Choice

Around the world, there is no clear relationship between the amount of school choice and competition and students’ performance on a test of critical thinking in math, reading and science. In fact, if anything, school choice seems to be related to greater levels of segregation in some countries.

Here again, the quality of choices appears to matter more than the existence of choices. So investing in the supply of great teachers and principals seems to be more effective than relying on parental demand.

So what matters?  Challenging our students (Common Core anyone?) and investing far more in good teachers:

So what does matter, now that we’ve covered what doesn’t? Rigor matters: the work that kids do, the quality of teacher training, the seriousness of the entire system. That matters in every time zone.

There is more than one way to get rigor, of course. In my experience, the best approaches start at the beginning–focusing on how teachers get selected and coached, how principals are developed and chosen, and how schools and parents work together to challenge all kids to think for themselves.



Daily Show on Fox and race

This is awesome:

Photo of the day

From the Telegraph’s animal photos of the week:

A man rows a makeshift raft to evacuate a pig from a flooded village in Lishui in east China's Zhejiang province

A man rows a makeshift raft to evacuate a pig from a flooded village in Lishui in east China’s Zhejiang provincePicture: AP

Science vs. status quo (high school edition)

Ugh, I’m tired.  Why?  My oldest started high school this week, complete with it’s utterly absurd 7:25 start time.  My own high school started school at 7:30, but I did not recognize until years later that I basically spent my entire high school years chronically sleep-deprived.  Then I got to college, never took classes before 9:10, and knew what it meant to be sufficiently rested.

I don’t know the history of the early high school start times, but when these decisions were first made, we did not have scientists and doctors telling us that these times were simply not compatible with optimal adolescent health.  But now we know.  The evidence on the inappropriateness of these early start times keeps piling up and school districts just keep ignoring it.  Status quo bias is a very, very powerful thing.  Very nice piece in the Atlantic summarizing the evidence on the matter:

These early school start times result in sleepy kids and frustrated parents. But, as of Monday, those kids and parents have the formidable weight of the American Academy of Pediatrics on their side. The organization released a new policy statement saying that “insufficient sleep in adolescents [is] an important public health issue that significantly affects the health and safety, as well as the academic success, of our nation’s middle and high school students.”

“The empirical evidence [of] the negative repercussions of chronic sleep loss on health, safety and performance in adolescents … has been steadily mounting for over the past decade,” wrote Judith Owens, a pediatrician and the lead author of the report, in an email. “For example, an important recent study published this spring by Dr. Kyla Wahlstrom documented the positive effects of school start time delay in over 9000 students from eight high schools in three states, including improved grades and standardized test scores and up to a 65 to 70 percent reduction in teen car accidents.”

Lest you thing, “those damn whiny kids (and their whiny parents) just need to go to bed earlier,” it is not so simple:

Moving bedtimes earlier is not going to fix the problem, particularly for adolescents. Teens stay up later not because they don’t want to go to sleep, but because they can’t. Due to the delayed release of melatonin in the adolescent brain and a lack of “sleep drive” in response to fatigue, teens do not feel sleepy until much later at night than young children or adults and have difficulty falling asleep, even when they are tired.

That’s why the American Academy of Pediatrics is focusing on school start times. “Although many changes over the course of adolescence can affect the quality and quantity of sleep, one of the most salient and, arguably, most malleable is that of school start times,” it says.

We actually give David supplemental melatonin every night and it generally works (he’s predispositionally prone to insomnia plus he’s got remaining Adderall in his system).  I honestly wonder if parents of most high school kids with these 7:30 and similar start times just shouldn’t be given their kids melatonin every night.  Now, of course, the obvious solution is right in front of everybody with moving the start times, but that is a lot of change.  I do understand the reluctance, but I wish people would listen to the science and their over-tired teenagers.

I think at some point enough school districts will make a change and show a clear relationship to rising test scores that it will finally catch on widely (that would be one good effect of our standardized test obsession).  Hopefully before Sarah goes to high school, otherwise I’ve got 15 years of these early start times ahead of me.

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